Thanksgiving At The Gin

November 22, 2001
by Jimmy Reed

The hardest job I ever had was managing my father's cotton gin. That fall three decades ago, when I returned home from overseas military service, he said, "Son, I'm tending to the harvest. You'll have to learn to operate the gin on your own." I was petrified. Growing up, all I'd ever done at the gin was to run the suction pipe.

There were seven of us in the crew: three Blacks, three Mexicans, and me, a Caucasian. Somehow we managed to avoid any major disasters, and, as the 18-hour workdays went by, we became more and more proficient at our tasks.

Module builders were unheard of then, and every time I looked up, another trailer of cotton was being dropped off in the gin yard. Day after day, we toiled "can to can't", shut the gin down, grabbed a few hours' sleep, and returned for yet another seemingly endless day. Thanksgiving was near, but there would be no holiday for us.

The gin was humming along nicely on that bright and brisk Thanksgiving Day. I was in the office catching up on paperwork, when the door opened and there stood Juanita, the pressman's wife. "Señor, I have come to ask that you shut the gin down long enough for the men to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with their families," she said.

"Absolutely not," I retorted. "Look at the gin yard — we're covered up!" She stood her ground. Then I realized why this day was so special to Juanita. In her native country, she had lived in abject poverty. Here, her husband could earn as much in an hour as he might earn all week there.

"Juanita, gather up the food you've prepared," I said. "Tell the other wives, including mine, to do the same. We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving right here at the gin!"

As the engines whined down to silence, the crewmembers were all smiling. Juanita had told them. We went out on the platform, out in the glorious sunshine, and laid two cotton bales end to end. That would be our table. The women and children came, and soon the bales were covered with cuisine from three different cultures.

We gave thanks for our many blessings that year — especially the bountiful crop — and then heaped our plates with delicious food. When everyone had finished eating, I asked Humberto, the pressman, what this day meant to him. He pulled out a small Bible, carefully turned the tattered pages and read,
Deuteronomy 8:10 – When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. (KJV)

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for reminding us, sometimes in ways we will never forget, how blessed we are. You have indeed blessed us with a land that is "beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain." Enable us to thank you every day, but especially on Thanksgiving Day. In Jesus' name. Amen.

About the author:

Jimmy Reed
Oxford, Mississippi, USA

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